Call for cruise liners to use Wollongong as backup port as Sydney reaches capacity

Come to Wollongong: Voyager of the Seas arriving in Port Kembla in January. The giant Royal Caribbean ship that is being permanently located to Asia visited Wollongong twice over summer. Picture: Greg Ellis.
Come to Wollongong: Voyager of the Seas arriving in Port Kembla in January. The giant Royal Caribbean ship that is being permanently located to Asia visited Wollongong twice over summer. Picture: Greg Ellis.

There are renewed calls for Wollongong to be considered the second port of Sydney after a major cruise line decided to locate one of its largest ships permanently to Asia.

Destination Wollongong is encouraging cruise ships to use Wollongong as a turnaround port after Royal Caribbean announced it will be permanently operating Voyager of the Seas in Asia because Sydney Harbour is at capacity.

Voyager has regularly started and finished voyages from Sydney in recent years. But during the last cruise season more ships were forced to use tenders to ferry passengers on and off in Sydney Harbour which can no longer accommodate the growing number of visits in the fast grow tourism sector.

Capacity: Passengers line the pool deck of Voyager of the Seas to see the harbour bridge during recent departure from Sydney which could be one of the last. Picture: Greg Ellis.

Capacity: Passengers line the pool deck of Voyager of the Seas to see the harbour bridge during recent departure from Sydney which could be one of the last. Picture: Greg Ellis.

Destination Wollongong general manager Mark Sleigh said Royal Caribbean’s decision does not affect visits to Port Kembla already announced for Radiance of the Seas and Explorer of the Seas in early 2018. “There are still two visits going ahead in January and March. We have a great relationship with Royal Caribbean and we fully expect that will continue”.

Mr Sleigh is still expecting more announcements from Royal Caribbean on day visits to Wollongong. And the city is still pushing for turnarounds that can’t be done in Sydney to come to Port Kembla.  “Wollongong has all of the infrastructure to facilitate turnarounds tomorrow. Wollongong should be considered the second port of Sydney. Rome, London and Paris all have cruise ports that it takes up to three hours to drive to and Wollongong is a lot closer to Sydney. So unless their is a viable alternative in Sydney Harbour that I can’t see, why wouldn’t you use Port Kembla?”

Mr Sleigh said even if there was a long-term plan to build a passenger terminal at Garden Island it was not going to be ready for years. “So why not use Port Kembla as an overflow port in the meantime when all of the infrastructure is already in place. Wollongong is an alternative and we can take the business tomorrow.”

The Sydney skyline as seen from the upper pool deck of Voyager of the Seas. Picture: Greg Ellis.

The Sydney skyline as seen from the upper pool deck of Voyager of the Seas. Picture: Greg Ellis.

Mr Sleigh said other companies were still interested in Port Kembla. “There are ongoing discussions with several cruise lines about further engagement. I fully expect those discussions will continue to happen. The Australian cruise industry grew by 14 per cent last season and it is forecast to have double digit growth again this year. So people are still looking for those great experiences and that is what Wollongong is certainly delivering. There is no reason why the cruise industry won’t continue to engage and bring more ships to the region”.

Parliamentary Secretary for the Illawarra Gareth Ward said Garden Island and Port Botany don’t need to be considered. “I want to see Port Kembla continue to realise its potential.”

“I have invited the Tourism minister Adam Marshall to come and have a look at what is on offer . He knows the importance of regional tourism to local economies,” Mr Ward said.

“Sydney is not the only answer. We are a stones throw away. And if Sydney is full..not only can we do it. But we can do it better than any other regional destination..around the country. The enthusiasm that was on display every time a cruise ship came to our region (over summer) was electric. I think the civic maturity of our region grew enormously when that first cruise ship came in. Wollongong is an ideal destination. There is so much that our region has to offer.”

Destination Wollongong media statement

Port Kembla Harbour at Wollongong is a viable turnaround port that should be considered by international cruise lines as berthing opportunities at Sydney Harbour reach critical limits.

Destination Wollongong General Manager Mark Sleigh says the harbour boasts all of the primary infrastructure and strong capacity needed to become a strategic alternative to the state’s capital city while Wollongong has already proven itself a memorable and welcoming destination for passengers.

While Port Kembla Harbour at Wollongong is relatively young in the cruising market, having welcomed its first ship in October 2016, it is a proven performer already recognised for its solid engagement with visitors and the wealth of attractions on offer in the surrounding regions.

“Making use of the resources at Port Kembla Harbour and Wollongong is a logical step for cruise companies looking for alternative opportunities within the burgeoning marketplace for Australian cruising,” Mr Sleigh said.

“Using Port Kembla Harbour at Wollongong as a turnaround port is not without precedence. You only have to look at major destination cities around the world to understand the validity of this call. Some of the most valued destinations in the world like London, Paris and Rome have their associated cruising ports more than 100km or between one and three hours away. With its array of activities, stunning beaches and casual lifestyle, Wollongong makes a wonderful overnight base for passengers embarking or disembarking cruise ships. It is also close enough to Sydney for easy access for international passengers.”

Destination Wollongong chair Tania Brown said Wollongong had proven appeal as a tourism destination with data showing a 15 percent growth in overnight visitors last season.

“The NSW Government has set the aspirational target of doubling the overnight visitor economy by 2020 and what better way to achieve that than facilitating growth in a sector otherwise constrained,” she said.

“Wollongong has recorded growth each year for the past 10 years which shows people are learning more about the region and are attracted by the variety of events and activities we offer.

“Port Kembla Harbour has the capacity and capability to accommodate cruise ships and Wollongong has the ability to entertain them, no matter what their ideal activity may be.”

Two Royal Caribbean cruises are already confirmed for the 2017/2018 season (Radiance of the Seas in January and Explorer of the Seas in March).

Wollongong City Councillor Leigh Colacino said we are ready for more.

“Port Kembla Harbour at Wollongong is an easily accessible port set within an engaging region and of close proximity to Sydney,” he said.

“We are able to accept cruise ships right now and we have proven our relationship with passengers is second to none. There is so much opportunity here and we are willing to work with cruise companies to ensure their passengers get to experience the best the east coast of Australia has to offer. The growth of the cruise industry in our region is still on course. We are expecting further continued growth of this exciting new business. “Wollongong is most definitely open and ready for business.”